Meeting yesterday in Brussels, the members of the Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) of the European Committee of the Regions raised concerns about the impact of the abolition of milk quotas in the EU, particularly in disadvantaged and sensitive regions. In a draft opinion drawn up by René Souchon (FR/PES), President of the Auvergne region, they call on the European authorities to take urgent measures to safeguard the incomes of all milk producers. In the positions it has previously taken on abolishing milk quotas, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) expressed its concerns about the plan to end quotas on 31 March 2015, and was highly critical of a measure likely to have an adverse impact on the EU’s environmental and territorial cohesion objectives. The CoR is concerned that this will accelerate the concentration of production in the most intensively farmed areas, harming sensitive or disadvantaged regions, including mountain regions but also so-called “intermediate” crop-growing and cattle-breeding regions. These fears are largely confirmed by the Commission’s latest report (published in June 2014) on the development of the market situation in the milk sector. “In light of the milk surplus and low prices recorded since summer 2014, the outlook is extremely worrying because in many Member States and regions, milk production is an essential pillar of the regional economy and of agricultural added value”, emphasised the rapporteur René Souchon, before adding, “It is essential to ensure a steady income for milk producers throughout the EU in order to maintain agriculture and preserve rural communities in all regions, in the interests of meeting the EU’s territorial cohesion objective”.  
In the draft own-initiative opinion adopted yesterday, NAT members call on the European authorities to take steps to safeguard the income of all milk producers, as is the case in most other major milk-producing countries, such as India, China, Japan, South Korea, Canada and the United States, which have maintained or even strengthened their support and protection for the dairy sector. The draft opinion calls for the following in the short term: to quantify how many jobs, how much added value and how many public goods would be lost in “intermediate” and disadvantaged zones if milk production was abandoned;
to make contracting more effective by expanding the mechanism to the whole industry, including in particular large-scale retailers – contracting seeks to formalise a long-term commercial relationship between a producer and their client with the aim of ensuring adequate production in an outlet;
to improve the operation of the European Milk Market Observatory, and put in place the necessary resources for it to become a genuine steering mechanism, and not just a tool for post hoc observation;
to immediately enhance the safety net for a limited period in order to cope with the looming crisis, pending the introduction of another mechanism;
to take urgent steps to safeguard the income of all milk producers, and to examine in particular the European Milk Board proposal.
In the medium term:
to harmonise the compensation payments for natural handicaps , financed 100% by the EU budget, to restore milk collection aid, to support the promotion and development of the “Mountain produce” label for dairy products, subject to an adequate level of food self-sufficiency;
to encourage the preservation of dairy production , particularly using more mixed and hardy breeds which make use of the grasslands, rather than production from very specialised herds which consume ever increasing amounts of cereals and soya;
to draw up a major rural development plan for all countries which have small herds and where dairy farms are in the majority. It seems like their future may be at risk following the abolition of quotas, even though these farms remain the foundation of rural communities. The NAT commission
The Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) coordinates the work of the Committee of the Regions in the areas of rural development and the common agricultural policy, fisheries and maritime policy, food production, public health, consumer protection, civil protection and tourism. It brings together 112 regional and local elected representatives from the 28 EU Member States. The commission’s chair is José Luís Carneiro (PT/PES), mayor of Bilbao.